By Bethany Gartin
The common autism awareness angle focused on prevalence rates and the characteristics associated with ASD—often framed exclusively in a negative light—has created an environment where the term ‘autism’ carries a damaging stigma and is generally thought of as a disorder that hinders one’s ability to communicate effectively and contribute to society in a meaningful way.
What we typically don’t hear in the greater autism conversation is about the person behind the diagnosis, their strengths and capabilities.
For this reason, the team at the Golden Hat Foundation developed a new video, ‘Aut2Change Perceptions’, which features the voices of individuals on the autism spectrum and their abilities and diverse communication styles.
One of the individuals featured is James. People may not think of someone like James when they think of autism because he has a thriving career and is happily married. Despite all of these milestones and successes, he lives in a world that stigmatizes him. In the video, James shares with us that
…Just because we have this diagnosis doesn’t mean that we are hopeless. It doesn’t mean that we can’t achieve. It doesn’t mean we can’t grow to be adults and be successful in our own way. It doesn’t mean we can’t work.
People on the autism spectrum are unique human beings with different experiences and circumstances. For those who are unable to speak verbally, it is sadly a common assumption that they are cognitively impaired and unaware of what is going on around them. Giulia, an autistic nonverbal 5th grader, is an example.
When hearing the words ‘autistic’ and ‘nonverbal’ people may automatically assume that Giulia has minimal intellectual ability. But, Giulia is capable and tells us that “education is important” and we should listen because all too often, autistic people are deprived of an academic education. In the video, Giulia sits with her iPad and works on her math homework. Like many of her peers, she is able to answer questions like “The diagram shows a square pyramid over a cube. What is the volume of the entire figure?”
Then there’s Matt. Matt is autistic and has ‘non-functional’ speech. In the video, you see him working on his senior research paper – typing avidly – and he says things like ‘go play please’ that don’t seem relevant. Matt wants us to know that “what I say out loud isn’t always what I am thinking.”
These are just a few individuals that offer a glimpse into their world and illustrate that there’s more than meets the eye. The Golden Hat Foundation exists for this purpose – to change the way people with autism are perceived, by shining a light on their abilities and emphasizing their great potential.
We believe that despite the behaviors and communication difficulties of people on the autism spectrum, we should always presume competence first and then find ways to access it. Autistic people have unique strengths, perceptions, and talents that deserve recognition and respect.
*The mission of the Golden Hat Foundation is to change the way people on the autism spectrum are perceived, by shining a light on their abilities and emphasizing their great potential. With proper education and career training, these individuals can truly realize their dreams.